A secret kitchen in Florence

It’s lunchtime in Florence and Stefano, Mine, and I are in Borgo San Lorenzo in front of a restaurant that you can’t see into because there are too many stickers on the door from guide books who recommend it.  Every now and then someone comes out, sometimes tourist, sometimes Italian, and they nod to their companion that, “nope, there’s no space.”

I say to Mine, who manages the check-ins of about 20 apartments on Cross-Pollinate, that maybe we should look for something else.  Stefano, who is on the phone and owns an apartment nearby seems totally oblivious and says not to worry – “he knows them”.

Sometimes you go somewhere often enough and they try a little harder for you, maybe they let you jump the line even, but in this case, I can’t imagine how any of that could help – the place is simply packed and I don’t see who Stefano can know that might reverse that fact.

He gets off the phone and steps inside a second, and I’m thinking, “man, this guy is naive”. It’s like he’s never been to a full restaurant before and had to wait – he just doesn’t seem to get it.  But he surprises me.  Half a minute later he comes out, not cocky or proud in any way – just matter-of-fact, and he says, “ok, here’s the deal – we each walk in one at a time.  We walk through the restaurant to the very back.  You’ll see there’s a little area there with people waiting.  Don’t talk to anyone – just wait, and then we’ll go down.”

Mine and I do as we’re told.  She goes first, then I follow a beat behind her, walking through a narrow strip of tables, holding a look of clear intention on my face.  At the back there’s a little room with a bathroom off to one side and it looks like there are three strangers: Stefano, Mine and I, waiting to use it.  Instead, someone starts to head down some stairs.  Then Stefano.  Then Mine.  Then me.

We all walk through a basement area where the fridges are.  There are crates of wine, other stuff about, cleaning products, and at the end, a table with 4 people eating at it.  They give me a knowing glance of approval.

Beyond that we’re taken to another room that is also packed, where people are eating, talking, being loud.  They don’t know each other, but we all have something in common, and when our eyes meet you can see the acknowledgement of it – we “know” somebody.

We order and I’m impressed how fast our food comes.  A good two hours slip away there, eating, talking about the murder trial of Amanda Knox in Perugia and at one point it’s explained that the restaurant clearly doesn’t have a license for this area, but serves people they know who won’t cause a stir about it.

I love the idea of secret kitchens and supper clubs.  As far as I know, there aren’t many of them in Italy – although there should be.  Lord knows it’s hard enough to serve food legally so the need for secrecy certainly exists.  This was a good version of it, but unfortunately, I can’t give you the name.  For that, you’d have to ‘know’ someone.

by Steven Brenner

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